Harry Redknapp: 'You can have all the computers in the world but your eyes have to be the judge'

In his first major interview as Spurs manager Harry Redknapp tells Sam Wallace about how he has transformed the team – and why Robbie Keane was a bigger loss than Dimitar Berbatov

on his desk at Tottenham Hotspur's training ground, Harry Redknapp has a black and white picture of Ellesmere United FC, from Poplar in east London, taken in 1949. "That's my dad," Harry says pointing at a smiling face in the front row with the unmistakable looks of both generations of the Redknapp family. The late Harry Redknapp Snr, was by his son's admission, a devotee of football from whom the passion was passed to Harry and on to his son Jamie.

"My dad would watch Jamie every week at Liverpool no matter where he played. He would get the train," Harry says. "My mum would make a cheese and pickle roll for Jamie to eat after the game. Now remember, Jamie's playing for Liverpool.

"Jamie would meet my dad after the game and take him back to the station and once Steve McManaman was in the car with them. My dad said to me: 'I felt bad I because I had a roll for Jamie but not Steve McManaman'. So I said to my dad: 'A roll? He's getting thirty grand a week!' But every week after that he had to take two rolls, one for Jamie and one for Macca. That was his life, never missed a game."

The passion burns strong for Harry Redknapp Jnr, 61 years old, and every inch the man of the moment as he leads an extraordinary revival of Tottenham Hotspur. Last week at Fulham he lost his first game in charge of Spurs after five wins and a draw and tomorrow he is back at White Hart Lane to face Blackburn.

Yesterday he was urgently required in a meeting to discuss the plans for Spurs' new training ground in Enfield but with Harry there is always a time for a chat about football, his dad, the West India Quay docker, or the squirrels in his garden in Poole.

The squirrels have been a bit neglected of late with his hectic schedule. "I feed anything. I feed foxes, I'm not supposed to but I love it. The squirrels get a lot – I bought the plastic containers, they chewed the bottom and the nuts fell out so I had to buy the steel ones. They work better. I'm leaving home at 5.45am and we are in here at the training ground by 9am. I get back home at 7.30pm. It's OK because I pick up Kevin [Bond, his assistant] and we share the driving but it's a lot of travelling."

It is a very busy life for a man who could have chosen to put his feet up and see his time out at Portsmouth. Instead Redknapp accepted the biggest challenge of his life when he left Fratton Park for Spurs in such dramatic fashion. In his first major interview since that move he explains that he would have been financially better off if he had stayed at Portsmouth; how he would rather have kept Robbie Keane than Dimitar Berbatov and why foreign coaches coming into the Premier League should try their hand at managing the smaller clubs.

The temptation with Redknapp and Tottenham is to ask the simple question: how? How did he turn a team with two points all season into a side that could beat Liverpool twice in 11 days and pick up 10 points over five league games? "I just wanted to communicate with the players, get to know them and try to get into them – give them a bit of belief," Redknapp says. "No disrespect to the man who was here before and his record tells you he was a fantastic manager but obviously the hardest part for him was the language, it would be like me going to Spain. I would find it difficult."

There is a misconception about Redknapp that he is stubbornly old-school. Not true, he says, he loves the ProZone statistics that detail players' movement during a game. Yesterday morning he and his players went though some video clips from the defeat to Fulham put together by his video analyst. But there is a time when, he says, you have to rely on the skills built up over 25 years in football management.

"You can have all the computers in the world but your eyes have to be the judge," Redknapp says. "You can look at stats as much as you want – and we do – but you can have too much of it. You can spend too much time looking at computers rather than looking at the real thing which is out there on the pitch. I still think that being a good judge of players is the most important thing.

"I had that recently at Portsmouth with the fitness coach. I said that a certain player hadn't worked hard enough that day. The coach said: 'His heart monitor reading is OK'. I said: 'I don't care, my eyes tell me that he hasn't run about and I don't need a heart monitor to tell me that'.

"Being a judge of a player is important. I know a good player. If you buy too many bad players, you don't last in this game. I remember meeting Alex Stock when I had just taken over at Bournemouth. He had taken Fulham to an FA Cup final. I was very young and a bit embarrassed because of the state of my desk and I said sorry that it was such a mess. He said: 'You won't get the sack for having a scruffy desk. You get the sack for losing too many football matches and buying too many bad players'. And he was right."

Buying players has been the one thing Redknapp has not been able to since taking over at Spurs on 25 October. Instead it has been his remarkable powers of motivation that have transformed the likes of Darren Bent, Tom Huddlestone, David Bentley and Roman Pavlyuchenko. What is fascinating is to hear how Redknapp would have handled things differently over the summer when the departures of Berbatov and Keane hit the fortunes of Juande Ramos's struggling regime hard.

"I think he [Berbatov] is a fantastic player but if he wanted to go – if someone wants out that much – it's a big problem for them to stay," Redknapp says. "Robbie Keane was a big loss. Robbie was a character in the dressing-room, he was a leader around the place as well as being a terrific player. You need people like Robbie. He was a big, big loss. Once Liverpool came in it was difficult, he was a supporter. Daniel [Levy, Spurs chairman] would have liked to have kept him but for me it is Robbie's personality as much as anything else.

"I haven't really got too many new signings up my sleeve at the moment. I just wish I could turn the clock back – imagine having taken those two Argentinians, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano when they were available at West Ham. To think they couldn't always get in West Ham's team and what fantastic players they are. It's going to be hard to find players who will improve your team but sometimes they come along and you have to make the right moves when they are available."

Earlier in the day, at his press conference, Redknapp had announced that he will pick his gaffe-prone goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes against Blackburn. Redknapp is very quick to point out that he has a long way to go with Tottenham and that he believes it will take a few signings to get them to what he calls "the next level". "I have had a good start but that's all I have had," he says. "Results have gone well but there is a long way to go – we are still sitting second bottom but I am not getting carried away."

It is interesting that it did not take a lot of money from Levy to tempt Redknapp to leave Portsmouth, rather it was the scale of the challenge after he turned down the chance to manage Newcastle United in January. "Financially it [Spurs] wasn't a better move than Portsmouth, no way," Redknapp says. "In fact in all honesty I won't be any better off financially, it was just something that I had to do. I loved my time at Portsmouth, I liked the players but once I turned Newcastle down I felt people were saying, 'He's in the comfort zone, no ambition'.

"I just thought Spurs were a challenge that I had to take on. It was difficult, Portsmouth are a great club and a great way of life, it was 25 minutes to the training ground. No one bothered me. To take on a team with two points on the bottom of the league, some people said: 'Are you sure you're all right Harry?'"

He does not feel that he has anything to prove and cites his record as a manager proudly. At Bournemouth he was the first manager to take the club into the second tier of English football. At West Ham he stopped them from being a "yo-yo club".

He saved Portsmouth, twice in fact, and apart from Southampton's relegation season there has been a lot to be proud of culminating with winning the FA Cup last season. He does not attack Ramos personally but there is a point he wants to get off his chest about foreign managers. "I think the foreign coaches always come in and take over big clubs. Let them take West Brom this year – would they do better than Tony Mowbray? Would they do better than Phil Brown at Hull? No way. Let them go in at Stoke and do better than Tony [Pulis] has done, or at Portsmouth. They tried a foreign manager [Velimir Zajec] when I left first time and it ended up as a disaster. I think we get carried away with the foreign coaches and that they might be so much better.

"It might be sexier to have a manager who has come from such-and-such club because it is a big club. But the best club teams in the world are in this country, not in Italy. Spain have got a couple of great clubs but in the main I think the winners of the European Cup will come from our top four. I would just like to see more English managers given the chance to come up the ladder."

It has been a hard journey for Redknapp, from coaching in Phoenix and Seattle to being assistant to his great friend Bobby Moore at Oxford City. "At times I used to sit there thinking 'What am I doing here?' and then I'd look at Bob and think 'What is he doing here?'" Redknapp says. "He got written off after struggling at Southend but given the chance he could have been the greatest manager West Ham ever had." You realise in that moment why Redknapp is taking on the challenge at Spurs: it is for people like his dad, like Bobby Moore whose lives taught him to grab opportunities with both hands.

My Other Life

At the moment life is pretty hectic and I don't get a lot of time. I've got Jamie Carragher's autobiography to read. I love him, I think he a fantastic character, him and Stevie Gerrard, and my Jamie loves him. So I'm going to read Carra's book. The most relaxing thing for me is walking my dogs, two British bulldogs, on Studland beach where I live. I love it. They go for a paddle and some nights I can walk for an hour and I don't see another person. It allows me to switch off completely and relax.

Harry Redknapp was the first English manager to win the Intertoto Cup – his West Ham United side defeating Metz in August 1999 to reach the Uefa Cup. Aston Villa's John Gregory is the only other Englishman to match his feat.

Facts of life Redknapp's career in management

AFC Bournemouth Oct 1983 – June 1992, 457 games

West Ham United Aug 1994 – May 2001, 327 games

Portsmouth Mar 2002 – Nov 2004, 116 games

Southampton Dec 2004 – Dec 2005, 49 games

Portsmouth Dec 2005 – Oct 2008, 127 games

Tottenham Oct 2008 – present, 7 games

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